Authors: Lorna Seilstad
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #FIC042040, #FIC042030, #FIC027050, #Sisters—Fiction
“But you don’t.” Despite warnings to herself, her words came out clipped. A couple of years ago, Charlotte wouldn’t have spoken up to any man, but not anymore. She might not be eloquent like Hannah or as adventurous as Tessa, but she did believe in what she was fighting for, and that emboldened her.
“I’m not convinced your plan is necessary.” He propped one foot on the base of a large flower urn. “Contrary to your belief, I do have an understanding of the human body and its nutritional needs.”
She held her hands out. “But there’s so much new information of which I’m sure you are unaware.”
“Charlotte, I assure you I keep abreast of all the newest medical developments.”
She drew in a deep, lilac-scented breath. This was not going well. “Of course you do, but this information has yet to appear in medical journals. Please, let me explain. At Miss Farmer’s cooking school—”
He pressed his lips together at the mention of the school, but she continued. “At the school, I attended and later taught a special
course of study on the care and feeding of the ill and convalescent. Miss Farmer herself has spoken about the subject extensively. She was even asked to speak about it at Harvard Medical School.”
His eyebrows lifted. “Go on.”
Charlotte clasped her gloved hands. “She even wrote a book on the subject.”
“All right.” He brushed the dust off the tip of his shoe. “Miss Farmer has some credentials, and as her student, you have some as well, but I need you to understand something. That still doesn’t mean we can implement the changes you suggested.”
“You won’t even try them? Any of them?” She swallowed hard. How could this be?
“I’ve looked at the hospital’s financial records, and there simply isn’t the money.” His voice held a note of regret but hardened the more he spoke. “The figures don’t add up, and I can’t go to the superintendent and ask for more money based on your ideas.”
Her neck muscles grew taut. “You can’t, or you won’t?”
“Charlotte, I’m being considered for a permanent position at the hospital as an assistant superintendent. If they make the position permanent, I’ll be the youngest physician ever chosen to fill that post. I don’t want to risk my position on experiments.”
His eyes seemed to ask her to understand, but she couldn’t give up so easily. This was too important. “Even if it means your patients will be better off?”
“You haven’t proven that.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “And I think I know what’s best for my patients.”
“Don’t you mean what’s best for you?” The pitch of her voice rose and anger burned in her throat. She stood and met his gaze. “You’re afraid to rock the boat. You’re content with the way things are and that’s that. You won’t look beyond what’s in front of you to see how the situation can be different—how it could be better if you’d only give my suggestions a try.”
“Wait a minute.” He held up a hand. “I was trying to explain my decision to you, and now you’re accusing me of being nearsighted.
What makes you so certain you have all the answers?” He spread his arms toward the mansion. “Look where you live. You’ve had everything in life handed to you. You don’t know what it means to be content in a difficult situation. Do you even know what it’s like to balance a budget?”
Tears pricked her eyes. Did she know? He had no idea how well she knew. How dare he make such assumptions? She and her sisters had struggled for every crumb after her parents’ deaths. She’d made feasts out of beans. She’d taken odd jobs to have money for bread. She’d worn the same pair of shoes until the soles wore paper-thin.
But this man—this know-it-all, nearsighted man—didn’t have the right to know those things about her. Not now or ever.
She pointed to the gate. “Get out.”
Sunshine bathed the breakfast room in pale warmth. Charlotte glanced out the bay window and spotted Tessa working beside the gardener, tending the seedlings recently awakened by spring. She shook her head. If that girl couldn’t get her hands dirty at least once a week, she went crazy.
Charlotte shared a knowing smile with Aunt Sam before tapping the shell of her soft-boiled egg. The ironstone eggcup, decorated with periwinkle blooms, held the egg upright. She scooped out the yolk with a rounded silver egg spoon. Two years ago, she wouldn’t have known what an egg spoon was, let alone used one within the doors of a fine house on Summit Avenue.
Funny how fast things could change. If only her present predicament could change as quickly. No more ifs and wishes. She knew finding a position wouldn’t be easy, but she would do it, and even if Joel never let her through the hospital doors, she’d be content as long as she could cook.
Content. Thanks to her discussion with Joel the other night, the last thing she felt this morning was content. Why did that man set her off like a teakettle every time they spoke?
She slipped a teaspoon of egg yolk through her lips and swallowed. Well, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore. After that night, she doubted she’d ever see him again. Regret and anger mingled
together inside her chest, but she shoved the strange emotions aside. Why did it all have to be so difficult?
Not only had she lost the opportunity to get Joel to realize the hospital needed to change its food service, but she’d also lost any glimmer of friendship. Had a friendship truly been a possibility between them anyway? He’d been so kind earlier in the day, but wasn’t that a doctor’s job?
“What are your plans today, Charlotte?” Aunt Sam sipped from her coffee cup. “Would you care to go cycling with me?”
“I’m afraid I can’t. I think I’ll head to Minneapolis today.” She split a biscuit and spread a thick layer of raspberry jam on it. She’d spent the weekend considering her options and had decided this was her best one. Although getting a permanent position meant leaving Aunt Sam, it might be her only option. It would also get her away from any possibility of seeing Joel Brooks again.
Aunt Sam touched her napkin to her lips. “I don’t want to sound like Brother Carstens in yesterday’s sermon, but have you prayed about this?”
“I think God has better things to concern himself with than my situation.”
“I doubt that.”
Violet, the maid, stepped into the doorway. “There’s a telephone call in the hallway for you, Miss Gregory.”
She set down her biscuit. “For me?”
Charlotte excused herself and hurried into the hall. She sat down on the tufted leather seat of the mahogany telephone table and picked up the candlestick phone. The line crackled. “Hello?”
A short while later, she returned to the breakfast room and dropped to her seat. Her heart thundered in her chest, and the egg she’d eaten earlier somersaulted in her stomach. “That was the Greater Northern Natural Gas Company.”
Aunt Sam set her coffee cup back on its saucer. “Do they want to know where to deliver your new gas range?”
“No, they want to offer me a position teaching women how to cook with gas.”
Removing a token from her pocketbook, Charlotte stepped onto the streetcar and smiled at the motorman. She dropped the token into the fare box and found a seat near the front. The bell clanged, and with a whoosh, the driver released the brakes. The fresh breeze through the open windows kissed her cheeks. Aunt Sam had offered her automobile and driver, but Charlotte had declined. She hadn’t wanted to give the gas company the wrong impression.
The gas company was a short walk from the stop. The clerk in the front said they’d been expecting her and ushered her into Mr. Stewart Johnson’s office.
He stood when she entered. “Please have a seat, Miss Gregory.”
She obliged and folded her hands in her lap. “I have to admit your call caught me off guard. I have so many questions.”
“And I’m here to answer them.” Mr. Johnson’s mustache waggled as he spoke. “And, of course, to ask a few of my own.”
“Then, sir, perhaps you should go first.”
He tapped his pencil on his paper. “First of all, is there anyone in your life who would be opposed to you traveling out of town? A father? Brother? Gentleman caller?”
“Excellent.” He looked up. “I apologize, that came out wrong.”
“I understand. My family is supportive of my culinary aspirations, and I currently have no gentleman callers.”
“Excuse me.” He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and sneezed into it. “Let me give you the details concerning the position I’m offering you.”
He went on to explain she’d be traveling to cities in southern Minnesota to give a series of lectures on cooking with gas. Each lecture circuit, he said, would take three to five days, so the job would mean traveling away from Saint Paul. She would be in each
city a couple of days to speak to the ladies of the community about the outstanding benefits of cooking on a gas range. Along with that, she would be free to share her knowledge of nutrition, teach the ladies time-saving kitchen advice, and share recipes of all kinds with them.
“Most of the time, you’ll travel for one week and then have the next off.” He went over the pay and a few other details. “So, do we have a deal?”
Charlotte took a deep breath. Was this what she wanted? At Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery, she had taught under Miss Farmer and had loved doing so, but this was a far cry from working in the kitchen of a fine restaurant or owning her own establishment. How was she to know if this was what the Lord intended for her? Did it feel right?
“I’m sorry I can’t give you more time, but I have to know today,” Mr. Johnson said. “If you aren’t interested, we’ll approach the second-place winner.”
She sat up straight and nodded. “Yes, Mr. Johnson, I’d be honored to represent your gas company.”
Charlotte relaxed into the seat of the streetcar. A job. A position. Too good to be true. The trolley’s clackety-clack beat in time with her jumbled thoughts. She couldn’t believe she had accepted the position Mr. Johnson offered. It might not be in a fancy restaurant, but she would be cooking professionally.
Even though she was dying to share her news with Aunt Sam and Tessa, she had one stop to make first. Her sister Hannah deserved to hear the turn of events before anyone else. She had never forgotten Hannah’s promise to help Charlotte and Tessa achieve their dreams. Every time Charlotte was tempted to give up, Hannah had been there to encourage her.
As Charlotte made the short walk from the streetcar line to Hannah and Lincoln’s home, excitement bubbled inside her. The
neighborhood where her sister now lived sported a lovely collection of homes, including several new square Craftsman houses with large porches. In front of some, purple irises added a spot of color against the brick and stucco facades.
When Charlotte arrived at Hannah’s, she found her sister sitting on the front porch. Ellie, Hannah explained, was sleeping inside. She stood as Charlotte approached and clasped Charlotte’s hands. “I’m so glad you came today. I want to hear all about the contest.” She paused and tipped her head to the side. “Charlotte Gregory, you are positively glowing, and you look as if you’re about to burst. What is going on? Did you find a position?”
“Yes!” A jolt of fresh exuberance shot through Charlotte. “Oh dear, you should be sitting down. You just got home from the hospital. Are you sure you should be out here? What if you catch a chill?”
Hannah sat down in a cushioned rattan chair. “I’m fine. The fresh air is good for me.”
Charlotte shook out the soft wool blanket lying on the table and draped it over her sister’s lap. “Where’s Lincoln?”
“He’s at work, but Mrs. Umdahl is here. She’s in the kitchen, and she won’t let me do a thing. Another reason I’m glad you’re here.” Hannah made a circular motion with her hand to hurry her along. “So don’t make me wait. When do you start? What will you be doing?”
Charlotte sat down in the matching rattan chair on the other side of the small table. “I start next Monday working for the gas company.”
“The gas company? Not a restaurant?”
Charlotte stiffened at Hannah’s tone. She hurried to explain how she would be traveling to give lectures on the benefits of using the gas stove for cooking.
“I’m proud of you.” Hannah reached over and squeezed her hand. “But I hope you won’t wish you were working with a chef like you always wanted.”
Emotion clogged Charlotte’s throat. Was she settling for this
position instead of pursuing her true dream? What if God had other plans for her? How was she to know the difference?
The screen door banged open and Mrs. Umdahl appeared with a tray laden with large glasses of milk and sandwiches cut in neat quarters. “I thought you could both use a snack.”
Hannah’s eyebrows rose. “Milk in the middle of the afternoon?”
, it’s good for you and the baby.” She set the tray on the table. “Are you warm enough?”
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Umdahl.”
, I never heard of a mother out of bed so soon.” She wagged her finger at Charlotte. “Don’t let her get overtired.
Charlotte nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
When the housekeeper had gone back inside, Hannah picked up a quarter of egg salad sandwich. “Your position sounds like a perfect fit for you in so many ways, but I must admit, I hate the idea of you traveling alone.”
“I won’t be.” Charlotte removed her gloves, then set a sandwich on her luncheon plate. “The gas company has hired an older woman to be my traveling companion. They also plan to hire a singer who will perform before I speak to entice more women to attend the lectures. I suppose she will travel with us as well. The more women they can get interested in the benefits of the gas range, the more homes will start using gas. Not only will the gas company make money on gas range sales, but they’ll get more gas subscribers.”
“You’ll have them all cooking with gas in no time.”
“Some women who’ve lectured like this have gone on to have cookbooks published. Can you imagine?” Charlotte bit her lip. “I should slow down. I’m getting ahead of myself.”